Beaumaris, the castle on the ‘fair marsh’ on the isle of Anglesey, begun in 1295 and the last of Edward I’s great line of fortress castles for Wales. It is unusual for a castle in that it is built at sea level and is relatively hidden, you happen upon it rather than seeing it in the distance on some mound or rocky outcrop. This was my favorite of the castles we visited in Wales, however like other castles and historic monuments held by CADW I fear for its future, but more of that later.
Beaumaris Castle is what my daughter always refered to as a proper castle, that is it has a moat and in Beaumaris’ case the moat is still full of water, probably due to it being at sea level.
The only way into the castle today is through the Southern Barbican, beside which was once the sea dock bringing people and provisions right up to the castle walls.
As well as the drawbridge and the portcullis, there were murder holes, doors, a shooting platform and that only got you into the narrow outer ward which runs the whole way around the castle.
The castle might be at sea level and not easy to spy out but from the walls of the Southern Barbican you get great views across to mainland Wales.
If your plans had been to storm the castle so far you would be stuck between the outer and inner walls, being attacked from the tops of both and from the incredible 164 ground level arrow loops. To get into the inner ward you would have had to try to get through the South Gate past a further ten barriers including five murder holes and three further portcullises, this was a well fortified castle.
Of course you could have approached from the north, but the same awaited you, the outer Barbican being fortified is a similar manner to the southern one.
While the inner northern gatehouse being deeper and housing the Great Hall was never fully completed but would have housed even more defences than that of the Southern Gate.
By the time you had made it to the inner ward, you had got past the kind of security that even today’s camera would be hard to match.
One of the great features that remains at Beaumaris is the arches in the basements of the towers. Usually these have long since gone, or are still plastered over to make a dark basement with a domed roof.
This picture also clearly shows one of my concerns about the care of this and all the CADW sites. As pretty as you might thing the vegetation looks it will be doing damage to the walls and undermining the pointing. In fact in every castle we visited in Wales there were areas which recently visitors had been allowed to visit but now were considered unsafe, Beaumaris has the most number of these areas. It isn’t just the unchecked vegetation however, there is another problem, birds. Pigeons and gulls are allowed to nest in the ruins, there is no netting or wires up to prevent them, this also made both Conwy (which I will blog about at a later date) and Beaumaris Castle less than pleasant with birds suddenly swooping towards you and the amount of bird droppings around the place – do take wet wipes and or gloves with you when you visit.
On the east range in the central tower there is a chapel and unlike many a castle chapel (usually the watching chamber, larger windows and sometimes wall niche are the only clues) its purpose is clearly seen with its stonework and plastered walls, that would have been richly painted originally.
If you leave the mainland and head to Anglesey then Beaumaris Castle is certainly worth a visit but don’t forget those wet wipes and don’t miss the gargoyle outside the southern inner gate